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We love to entertain -- there’s nothing quite like planning and executing a successful social event, whether it’s a cocktail party, pool party or formal multi-course meal. The key (other than great friends and great food) is to create a space conducive to entertaining. Impress your guests at your next gathering with our expert tips.
We asked Divya Gugnani, entertaining and culinary maven, and expert with TheGift.com, about how to decorate for guests to wow them.
First things first -- eliminate clutter and chaos in your home. Move important or breakable furniture and knick-knacks to your bedroom and shift chairs to create a space for easy maneuvering, advises Gugnani. You want to have space for mingling and different places where people can stand and sit. You need adequate seating for guests but enough room for easy movement across your space, she explains. "An open space makes it easier to get around and talk to different groups of people. A complicated floor pattern creates wallflowers and uneasy guests.`
While it can be tempting to have one area for food (e.g., the kitchen table), do your friends a favor and spread out the treats. "Leave snacks on every table for easy gathering," advises Gugnani. All make-ahead appetizers can be served at room temperature and placed on tables so guests can help themselves and mingle while they munch. "Snacks are the best way to get people talking. Leave them within easy reach and groups will be gathering around them in no time," she says.
When guests come to your home, sometimes they aren't sure where to put things and could feel uncomfortable, especially if they aren’t frequent visitors. To help prevent any potential awkwardness, assign a space for shoes, jackets, etc. with clever little signs, Gugnani advises. "It will make the guests feel more at ease" -- not to mention keeping some guests who might wander around your home uninvited without a little guidance. "While some hosts might be alright with that, perhaps seeing your half-finished upstairs bathroom might not be great," she says. Cute, handmade signs will make it easier to get around, especially ones marked "bathroom." It will also save you time from having to explain where to go while you’re trying to get the first course ready.
Bright fluorescents and black lights are best left in your college dorm. Gentle lighting creates a more relaxed atmosphere that's much more conducive to entertaining. Soften the look of your lamps by covering them with colored scarves (making sure the light doesn't get too hot), suggests Gugnani. If your living spaces are too bright, remove some lights or don't turn them on. "Mood lighting is critical to entertaining. It puts everyone in a great mood, whereas harsh lighting doesn't really flatter anyone," she says. Think of the soft glow of candles or outdoor lights when you're on your porch at night in the summer -- that's the ambiance you want to achieve.
It can be a nice touch to add a few fun decorations that follow the particular theme of your function, but there’s no need to go overboard. For example, if you're doing a beach-lover’s paradise, add small bowls of shells and light delicate tapers to create the feeling of watching the sea at night, Gugnani advises. But don`t cover every surface with fish decals. Fresh flowers are also a great touch for gatherings of any size, but again, don't overdo it. "Sometimes the fragrance can mix with the aroma of the food and it's not always pleasing," she explains. Often, less is more, whether it’s blooms or themed accessories. "Twenty blown-up palm trees does not a beach make," she says. "Cute additions to your already lovely home will get the point across just the same and you're more likely to use them later.`
Decor, food and setup are all important but don’t forget about being a good host. "When a guest walks in, greet them and take their coat. The best way to create a welcome space is to be there to welcome them," Gugnani says. If you can’t be there (you’re tending the stove or mixing a drink), have someone you trust stand at the door and act as welcoming host in your place. "Guests love to feel special and they should be, since they're your friend. Being greeted is a good way of starting the party off on the right foot."
If you can't find something you need elsewhere, the best thing to do is to make it yourself (assuming you have time). More and more people are adding DIY touches to their social gatherings, Gugnani tells us. "With the creation of Pinterest, DIY tips are a click away, with visuals and directions that are simple to follow," she says.
Another way to impress guests this season is to embrace nature, Gugnani says. "Nature-inspired decorations are being used more," she tells us. For example, at summer-themed beach parties you can use real sand or shells as decorations. Large pieces of wood can do double-duty as serving platters to create an outdoor-inspired atmosphere.
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